Speaking at a press conference in Wellington, New Zealand, with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, Tillerson acknowledged that U.S.-Russia relations “are at a low point and they’ve been deteriorating.” He added that Trump “asked me to begin a re-engagement process with Russia to see if we can first stabilize that relationship so it does not deteriorate further, and then can we identify areas of mutual interest where perhaps we can begin to rebuild some level of trust.”
Tillerson added that he was ordered not to allow any political repercussions from investigations regarding alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign to interfere with invigorating the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Russia.
“That’s the process that’s underway today, and the president has been clear to me do not let what’s happening over here in the political realm prevent you from the work you need to do on this relationship, and he’s been quite clear with me to proceed at whatever pace and in the areas that I think we might make progress.”
Two Congressional intelligence committees and the FBI are investigating into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The probes now involve Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have reported that advisers to Trump, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, were in contact with senior Russian intelligence agents during the campaign.
Referring to the investigations, Tillerson said Tuesday, “I really am not involved in any of these other issues.”